Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cool Down with AC - The A.B.C. Murders Discussion

Summary: There’s a serial killer on the loose, working his way through the alphabet and the whole country is in a state of panic.

A is for Mrs. Ascher in Andover, B is for Betty Barnard in Bexhill, C is for Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston. With each murder, the killer is getting more confident—but leaving a trail of deliberate clues to taunt the proud Hercule Poirot might just prove to be the first, and fatal, mistake. -- Harper

It's time again for another Cool Down with Agatha Christie readalong! This week, I am hosting a discussion of THE A.B.C. MURDERS by Agatha Christie. THE A.B.C. MURDERS was a new-to-me read, and I have to say that I was quite impressed with all of the twists and turns. I'm not entirely sure it's going to go down as one of my favorite AC books, but I was still blown away by Ms. Christie's ability to weave a good mystery!

For those of you not familiar with this book, THE A.B.C. MURDERS tells the story of a very unique serial killer on the loose in England. The murderer is targeting his (or her) victims and locations based on the alphabet, hence the title. For example, the first murder is Mrs. Ascherin in Andover, the second in Betty Bernard in Bexhill, etc. The murderer is sending Hercule Poirot taunting letters which give warnings as to the dates of the murders, but it appears that he is one step ahead of the famous detective. Can Hercule Poirot figure out the murderer and the motive behind the madness?

I actually loved how different THE A.B.C. MURDERS was that some other Agatha Christie books that I've read. It was more about the psychology surrounding a serial murderer instead of a traditional whodunit, and I loved how it taxed Poirot's brain. The "murderer" is presented to the reader early on in the novel and the real question for Poirot was the "why." He admitted that the murderer was a madman but he also knew that there was a great deal of planning involved in carrying out these murders. He couldn't put his finger on the motive behind the murders, and it wasn't until his friend Hastings mentioned something in passing that everything started to come together for him.

While I was highly entertained by this novel, I also found my reactions to this story to be interesting. Even though the murderer was "outed" at the beginning of the novel, I had a sneaky suspicion that he wasn't the murderer. I just couldn't believe that Ms. Christie wouldn't have something up her sleeve. However, because I kept doubting who the murderer was, I became frustrated that I couldn't figure out anything -- not the murderer, the motive, etc. I guess my feelings were pretty similar to Poirot's! As the story began unraveling at the end, I wasn't necessarily surprised by the culprit, but I was shocked by how twisted and complex the resolution was. There is absolutely no way I saw any of it coming. And that's one of the reasons that I adore Agatha Christie -- she always manages to surprise me!

As part of my preparation for this discussion, I discovered some interesting things about THE A.B.C. MURDERS. First of all, the book was originally published in 1936 and sold in the U.S. for $2. I know I should be surprised that this book is 75 years old, but I am just amazed by how "current" this book seems. There were definitely references to that time period, but I swear the book could have been written today. So much of what occurred in this novel is still relevant, and I guess that's why she's "The Queen of Mystery."

In addition, Ms. Christie has some special references to her other books in THE A.B.C. MURDERS. In Chapter 1, she refers to a situation in THREE ACT TRAGEDY as well as one in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. In Chapter 3, she mentions Poirot's idea of a perfect crime which later appears in FOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE. And in Chapter 19, she references the book THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. I was only able to catch the first reference, but I love how smart she was!

And finally, THE A.B.C. MURDERS has been adapted into a few other works. There was a 1965 movie adaptation which was called The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall starring as Poirot. And a second movie was made in 1992 for the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet playing the role of Hercule Poirot. This adaptation had a few character and plot changes including what happened to the murderer at the end. (I won't give that away here!) There has also been a video game and a four-part anime based on the novel.

Now it's your turn. You can answer as many or as few of these questions as you like. Or, you can bring up some ideas of your own!

1) I'm almost always amazed by the many twists and turns in Agatha Christie's novels. Were you surprised with the conclusion of THE A.B.C. MURDERS? Did you have any suspicions about the murderer?

2) How did THE A.B.C. MURDERS compare to other Agatha Christie books that you've read? Would you say it was one of your favorites?

3) I have to admit that I really thought the murderer was toying with Poirot with his letters -- that the motive behind the murders might be personal and, therefore, somehow linked to Poirot. I was absolutely shocked with the resolution of the case -- not so much because of who the murderer was, but rather because I kept looking for the link to Poirot. Was it just me? Or did you have a similar reaction to the letters and the motive?

4) I found Poirot and Hastings' relationship to be quite entertaining; however, I was a little bit surprised by how Poirot treated him. (I found it to be a little degrading, but maybe he was just teasing?) Did you find it ironic that Hastings was actually the one whose practicality helped Poirot to solve the crime?

5) Ms. Christie's writing style is a little different in THE A.B.C. MURDERS -- she combined first and third-person narrative. To make things even more unusual, the third-person narrative is reconstructed by Hastings, the first-person narrator. Did you appreciate the two "different" narrators? Did this presentation style work for you? What were the benefits (if any)?

Two participants in today's discussion have the opportunity to win a "cool" Agatha Christie prize pack including a surprise AC gift! So remember, when you leave your comment, please leave an email address!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

Christie was well before her time. My mom was 9 when this book came out. She said as a child, she was amazed that a woman wrote books like that. I hope to read this soon.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I keep hearing that Christie is an expert at fooling the reader, but since I get fooled even by the non-experts, I haven't rushed to start another series! :--)

Serena said...

I have'nt read these books, but they sound very engaging and I could swear that the ABC killer idea was used in a movie or television show.

Kambri Crews said...

Between the ages of about 12 to 14, I read every Agatha Christie book available to me in the US. I haven't read them again since because I always assumed I would remember "whodunit". But when I saw this readalong on your site, I thought what better time than now. Besides, I'm 40 now, so thought *maybe* enough time has passed.

It did bring back memories for me, not of the serial murders or true killer, but how I would read them in a British accent. Weird kid, you might say, but I found myself doing it again! HA!

I did like the serial murder theme, something different than her usual plots. I also enjoyed the switch in narration. Getting inside the mind of a madman is always fascinating.

Poirot's degrading Hastings always irritated me because, while Hastings might have been a numbskull at times, Poirot always relied on Hastings & credited him with helping him see things he had not previously. But at least Poirot admitted that point.

As for the real killer, I did figure it out early on. I'm not sure how much of it had to do with it being my second time reading it regardless of how many years have passed. But, to me, the killer stood out as the only one with a real motive.

I read this in one sitting, so it is an easier read than some of her more complicated plot lines. Can't say it's one of my favorites, though. I was inspired to dust off one of her classics and my all-time favorite, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." I have never forgotten who the murderer was in that one, and I doubt anyone who has ever read it could forget. It's filled with many twists, of course, but a real mind-blowing ending.

Thanks for hosting this and re-igniting my love for my all time favorite author.

Susan S. said...

I have to tell you, this is one of my all time favorite AC mysteries. I actually saw the TV Adaptation with David Suchet several years ago (okay, many years ago), and was given the DVD (in a set) for Christmas shortly thereafter. I have watched the DVD on at least 20 occasions... every time I note some minor detail that I didn't the times before.

So, reading the book, I already knew the ending and the murderer and the reasons therefor. I just kept hoping that the Adaptation was true to the novel, and it pretty much was consistent. There were very few differences, and I really liked that.

I loved the fact that Hastings narrated the novel. I could actually hear Hugh Frasier (plays Hastings in the Adaptation with David Suchet) in my head narrating the book. I think it provides a wonderfully different perspection in the story-telling. The back-and-forth between Poirot and Hastings... it didn't bother me. That is just how their relationship is throughout many of the novels. Hastings always stating the obvious (which sometimes is the easy answer) and Poirot tying up all the loose ends for us. Sometimes, I see something that Hastings sees and when Poirot "puts him down or corrects him" I feel like I was thinking too simply as well. But sometimes, the simple answer is the right one!

For me, this book is right up there with some of AC's best (in my opinion). I too thought that the introduction of the murderer so early in the book MUST have meant that there was a twist coming. But I never figured it out. THAT'S why I love reading her books. She keeps me engrossed, has just enough twists and turns, but in the end, the resolution makes perfect sense.

Again, since I've seen the Adaptation so many times, I was able to read the book and actually "look" for hints and foreshawdowing. Normally, I don't like knowning the end of the book but in this case, it was fun to see things and be able to make sense of them, knowing the small details played a part in the unravelling of the crime.

A great book. Great discussion. And great comments by all. Thanks for hosting!

Raejean said...

I was so excited when this book and a few other goodies came in the mail. I started reading it, but I'm only on the eighth chapter. I'm intrigued so far!

rossjenc said...

I enjoyed this book. Although, I didn't like it quite as much as Murder On The Orient Express.

I was a but surprised at the conclusion. I had suspected the murderer at one point but then the phone call by Lily to Mr. Cust tossed me off a bit. What do you think the motivation was behind her call?

I didn't mind the different narratives. I enjoyed some of the banter of Poirot and Hastings. The wit and sarcasm was
enjoyable and amazingly stood the test of time considering this book is seventy five years old. I adored Poirot in Orient Express and felt the same until about a third way through the book. Then I begin to think he was a little too sharp with his remarks to the point that they seemed

The working of Poirot's mind was enjoyable too. I like how A.C. describes how he draws the conclusions he makes and develops questions that lead to his conclusions.

I think this book missed some of the charm of Orient Express because I didn't find myself drawn to the
characters by their likability as I did in that book.

I really love reading her books and I look forward to reading more. It's fun to read a mystery that you can try to solve yourself without also subjecting yourself to a tremendous amount of violence and gore.

I also really like how the publisher of this edition posted her other works in order and by detective at the end of the book.I am really eager to read a Miss Marple book next. It will be interesting to compare/contrast the mind and workings of a female detective to the male Poirot.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Hey, Julie - we're just back from vacation this afternoon, and THE ABC MURDERS was waiting in my big pile of mail .... how long will the discussion be going on? Maybe I can ignore the laundry and settle in with this tomorrow ...

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This book was *so* different from MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (the only other Christie I've read) - I really liked MotOE, it got me to want to read more of these mysteries - but ABC? I loved it!

Poirot's discussions about the psychology of the murderer (that whole bit about why we might kill a mosquito ... that's not pre-meditated, etc.)

I liked Hastings' narration as well. His interactions with Poirot helped me to understand M.Poirot better, I got a really good sense of his personality and his dry sense of humor.

Yes, clearly Poirot had the upper hand in the relationship with Hastings, but I think Hastings admired Poirot, and looked up to him. A friend, but one who was more accomplished.

Also, Christie put enough of the culture of the time and place into the novel to give me a sense of what the era was like. The mysteries are timeless, and could easily be 'updated' with today's terminology (or modern film adaptation), but it doesn't read in an 'old fashioned' sense at all.

Fun to do this read-along!